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US First Lady Calls Africa's Youth to Action

The U.S. First Lady, Michelle Obama, chose Soweto's historic Regina Mundi church to inspire Africa's youths.
The U.S. First Lady, Michelle Obama, chose Soweto's historic Regina Mundi church to inspire Africa's youths.

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Nico Colombant

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama has delivered a motivational speech to Africa's youth, and in particular to the continent's young women, calling them to action for a better future.

Following a boisterous choir and introductory remarks by South African women leaders, an emotional Michelle Obama, the first African-American first lady in U.S. history, spoke before a packed Regina Mundi church, directly addressing young women.

"You can be the generation that makes the discoveries and builds the industries that will transform our economies," the first lady said.  "You can be the generation that brings opportunity and prosperity to forgotten corners of the world and banishes hunger from this continent forever.  You can be the generation that ends HIV/AIDS in our time, the generation that fights not just the disease, but the stigma of the disease."

Links to view or listen to Michelle Obama's speech

The wife of U.S. president Barack Obama, 47, said Africa's youth must help ensure women are no longer treated as second-class citizens, and that they stand up to violence against women in any form and any place.

The speech was part of a U.S.-sponsored forum for young African women leaders.  
Mrs. Obama said in recent history the anti-apartheid struggle against white minority rule in South Africa and the civil rights movement in the United States had inspired each other, and that the same could be said on a personal level between herself and young African women of today.

The last words of Michelle Obama's speech picked up on her husband's winning 2008 electoral slogan.
The last words of Michelle Obama's speech picked up on her husband's winning 2008 electoral slogan.

The church was a haven during the anti-apartheid struggle, and guests said they believed it was now the place of the most important speech in Mrs. Obama's life.  The first lady ended her comments with a familiar refrain from her husband's victorious 2008 electoral campaign.

"If anyone ever tells you that you should not or you can not then I want you to say with one voice, the voice of a generation,  you tell them, 'Yes, we can!'  What do you say?  'Yes we can!'  What do you say?  'Yes we can!'  Thank you all so much," Obama said.

One of the forum participants, South African radio personality Anele Mdoda, said Michelle Obama's call was loud and clear.

"The fact that she is here, and she is looking at us in the face and she is saying it to us, I think that, and I know that, it is a kick-start for better things for us," Mdoda said.

Groups of high school students were also present. Seventeen-year-old Mashudu Nephawe was one of 20 teenagers attending from the Moletsane high school in Soweto.

"Women like Michelle Obama succeeded in life because they have discipline.  And she thinks out of the box, she thinks for other people," Nephawe noted. "If we can have more women to lead the world I believe the world would be great, it would be more than a better place."

Obama is making the Africa trip with her mother and two daughters, but without her husband.

She met Tuesday with anti-apartheid icon and former South African president Nelson Mandela, and continues her South Africa trip Thursday in the southwestern city of Cape Town and at Robben Island, where Mandela was jailed for 18 years.

Her southern Africa tour focused on youth empowerment and good governance will also take her to Botswana.

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